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Rya Inman / Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s tennis opened its season with two ranked wins over no. 14 Oklahoma State and no. 16 Tennessee.

Without a doubt, men’s tennis is here to stay. Despite losing some of its most consistent players on the court in Victor Pham, Will Matheson, and Tim Wang, all CC ’19, as well as 37-year head coach Bid Goswami, the No. 18 Lions asserted their dominance at ITA Kickoff Weekend, qualifying them for the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. This is the fifth time since 2015 that the Light Blue will compete in the prestigious event.

This triumph also marked the first win under new head coach Howard Endelman, CC ’87, who has not been at the helm since a stint coaching the women’s tennis team between 1989 and 1992, when he served as the youngest coach in the Ivy League.

The Lions (2-0) traveled to Knoxville for the ITA Kickoff to battle No. 14 Oklahoma State (4-1) in the first round. By shutting out the Cowboys 4-0, the Light Blue automatically advanced to the finals of the event.

The team came in hot early, capturing the doubles point advantage. Senior Adam Ambrozy and junior Jason Lui made quick work of Mathieu Scaglia and Maxim Tybar, taking advantage of a deuce point double fault to eventually win the set 6-2. The No. 3 pair of junior Jack Lin and senior Jackie Tang used strong serve returns and even stronger serves in order to defeat No. 1 Matej Vocel and Dominik Kellovsky 6-4.

Coming off the early lead, the Lions blazed into singles matches, which all remained highly competitive until the end. As junior Rian Pandole dropped his first set 6-4, junior Austen Huang battled from a 2-point deficit to take his 7-5, rallying back from four set points after Oklahoma State’s Brady Draheim fought Huang for a 5-4 advantage.

No. 79 first-year Alex Kotzen took on fourth singles in his first collegiate dual match, clinching the win in straight sets 6-2, 6-3. No. 6 Lin captured his first set 6-4 against No. 41 Vocel, utilizing quick foot movement and strategic angling. His second set was an even smoother victory culminating in a 6-1 final score, putting the Light Blue ahead 3-0.

Huang secured the complete shutout of Oklahoma State with a 6-4 win spurned by his opponent thwacking a forehand straight into the net.

In the finals of the tournament, men’s tennis faced No. 16 Tennessee (6-1). After Pandole and Kotzen fell in doubles, Lui and Ambrozy quickly replied with a 6-4 victory at third doubles and Lin and Tang cemented the advantage for the Light Blue with a 6-3 win.

Singles forced the Lions to fight back from deficits as both teams battled for the coveted spot in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. The Volunteers took five of the six first sets as well as the first singles match as Lin was defeated by No. 23 Adam Walton in straight sets 6-4, 6-2.

Kotzen put the Lions back on the scoreboard with a three-set victory 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 after dropping his first set to his Volunteer opponent. However, that revitalization was leveled once again as Tennessee notched a win over Ambrozy 7-6 (3), 7-5 to produce a 2-2 equalizer.

Pandole and Huang both forced third sets at third and sixth singles, respectively. Huang went on to win his match 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 to give the Light Blue its third point.

No. 73 Tang fought through two break points after falling behind in his third set 3-4, clinching the match and the tournament spot 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

The Lions will return home to Morningside Heights and play their opener next Sunday, Feb. 2 against South Florida. First serve will take place at 1 p.m. at the Dick Savitt Tennis Center.

Sports Editor Lizzie Karpen can be contacted at elizabeth.karpen@columbiaspectator.com. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieKarpen.

Tennis Howard Endelman Bid Goswami Jack Lin Jackie Tang Adam Ambrozy Alex Kotzen Oklahoma State Tennessee
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